Everyone's a critic (or "No, I am not a paid blogger")

This week on Twitter was a little like a spicy meal that repeats on you at 2am. Nic Haralambous and Rich Mulholland dredged up what feels like an old criticism about my posts about Nokia and its products (in particular the Nokia N97 which I now own, thanks to Nokia SA – I am one of 4 people who received an N97 as an extraordinary gesture of Nokia’s appreciation for the recent Search for N competition coverage). I wrote about the main criticism that has been levied against me in a post titled “Which rules should bloggers play by?” in which I asked a number of questions about, as the title suggests, what the rules of the game are for bloggers. None of my most vocal critics responded to what I hoped would be the beginning of a debate about this issue which is clearly a pressing issue.

Nic posted a tweet the other day which just irked me.

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He was responding to a post I published about how Gizmodo covered the N97, not because I disagreed with Gizmodo’s criticisms but because I objected to how Gizmodo covered the topic. From my perspective the Gizmodo post could have been about any brand or product and I still would have objected. It just so happens I saw the Gizmodo post because I have been reading reviews of the N97, most of which have been pretty critical of the device (and most of which I agree with).

I had a brief sms conversation with Nic after I saw his tweet and the one issue which came up was credibility and coming across too strong(ly?) when I write about stuff on my blog, Nokia stuff in particular. The same issue came up earlier today when Rich responded to a silly tweet I posted:

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By way of introduction

There are a couple things I’d like to get out of the way here quickly:

  • First, the only companies paying me for my blogging are Google and Afrigator and even then my earnings are negligible (I am expecting my first cheque from Afrigator for about R400 or so for a couple months’ ads);
  • Contrary to popular belief, I am not employed or otherwise contracted by Nokia (I have a business which I am building);
  • I have received a couple benefits writing about Nokia and its products which most people don’t receive (you can read about them on my Disclosures page) but that isn’t why I write so much about Nokia – I do it because I am actually a fan and have been for over a decade;
  • I am not a journalist and don’t purport to be one;
  • There are no strings attached when it comes to Nokia. In fact, Nokia people have demonstrated themselves to be very much aware of the risk of unduly influencing bloggers and have gone to some effort to avoid doing that.

Where was I? Oh yes, passion …

I outlined my approach to my blog in my previous post on this subject:

I write about things I am passionate about. I believe that this passion means I am incapable of being unbiased about what I write about and I instead focus on being authentic in my posts. I write what I feel, think and believe rather than what I am told to write. That has become my measure of success as a blogger. In doing so I also attract criticism for being too focussed on particular brands or topics. Does this undermine my credibility? I don’t really know and I would rather be as transparent as I can be about my influences and leave it up to my readers to decide how much weight, if any, to give to what I write.

Seeing that the criticism I face is about how much I write and what I have to say about Nokia, I’ll start there. I have always had a Nokia phone. My first phone was a Nokia 2110i back in the late 1990s and I can probably tell you which Nokia phones I have owned since then. There has always been one brand for me (at least until the iPhone opened the door to an alternative). There are about 123 posts on this blog where I mention Nokia (ok, 124 if you include this one) and about 35 of those posts were published from about December 2008 when I first had access to someone at Nokia SA (specifically, Mathia Nalappan, Nokia SA’s General Manager). One of my earliest Nokia posts was published on 25 January 2005 when I wrote about my Nokia 6600 and thoughts about what my next Nokia phone would be.

As you can see, I’ve been writing about Nokia for a while now and that was all about my passion for Nokia phones and the brand. There have been times when I was pretty critical of Nokia (in particular my much reviled Nokia N73 ME) and times when I have been very complimentary. What has changed in recent months is that I have been given access to review units, Nokia people and I even got to fly to Dubai (I have heard that this was pretty controversial and pissed a lot of people off) where I met a number of people from Nokia MEA and HQ and had insights into Nokia’s culture and methodologies which just inspired even more passion about Nokia. This extra exposure to Nokia has been fantastic. I am a gadget nut (phones especially) and being able to test out new phones has been a real highlight for me. Being able to interface with Nokia people in various roles has been even more exciting. I learned about Nokia’s commitment to social media (probably a strong factor behind the decision to send me to Dubai), its customers, its design philosophy and how it sees its devices as components of the social Web. More access + Nokia people who take the time to listen to me = more passion for Nokia and its products.

Passion is also the driving force of social media itself. It is the stuff that case studies are made of and the glue that binds communities that spring up around products, brands, ideas and more. People have always evangelised stuff they really like and criticised the stuff they don’t. They have used word of mouth to spread the word. This is what we all do every day when we share our passions for the stuff we care about. I certainly do.

Let’s talk about me again

Social media is another of my passions. I use social media every day and have difficulty imagining/remembering a time when I couldn’t express myself the way I do. I can be pretty intense when I am really excited about something and I put that down to my obsessive-compulsive tendencies. I mentioned earlier that I am not a journalist and don’t claim to be one. I say this because there seems to be an expectation that bloggers behave like journalists. I don’t subscribe to that philosophy. Blogs are a way to express yourself and while there are many excellent journalists who use blogs as effective tools (Simon Dingle and Duncan McLeod are two journos who I respect tremendously and who blog in addition to their other wo
rk), there are also many people who use a blog as a way to have their say. I am one of the latter group of bloggers. I write about the stuff I care enough about to set aside a couple hours per post to write about. I don’t claim to be unbiased at all. Rather I believe that my passion for what I write about makes me inherently biased and I don’t make any apologies for that. I do my best to be accurate when I report facts but you tend to get a lot of wild opinion from me too. Ultimately it is up to you to decide for yourself if what I write has any value to you and, if so, how much.

This idea of passionate blogging is hardly new. Nic runs the popular SA Rocks blog which is all about passion for South Africa. Rich is, to me at least, passion on two legs and his passion for his family, freebording (not sure if I am spelling that correctly), whichever brand of rock/music he goes for, tattoos and more seeps out of his various online spaces. In fact, when I think about being passionate about what you do, I immediately think of Nic and Rich who I both respect and am continuously inspired by.

This blog is one of my outlets and one of the brands/companies I am passionate about is Nokia. It may not be the most popular brand/company amongst my critics but I dig it and I therefore write about it. Perhaps the comment that I write like Nokia pays me is an apt comment because it implies a certain degree of motivation and drive to write about Nokia except that motivation isn’t money. It isn’t even about the access I have to new phones (although that does fan the flames) or even the fact that Nokia sent me to Dubai (I loved the business class flight, no question, and I really enjoyed meeting the people I met). I write about Nokia because I have been a Nokia fan for as long as I have owned a mobile phone. Nokia may not make the best mobile devices in the world but there are other reasons for me to be passionate about Nokia and that is why I keep talking about Nokia.

I’m not going to argue with my critics about my credibility. Credibility isn’t about how I see myself, its about how you see me. My only suggestion is that you read what I write, compare what I have to say with people who regard as credible, authoritative or whatever your measure of value is and decide for yourself what value my posts have for you. There are a couple things I don’t do. I don’t write positive posts in exchange for payment in cash or goods. I also don’t allow companies to unduly influence my posts in any other way. I also don’t appreciate suggestions that I do these things and I especially don’t appreciate any suggestions that I am being dishonest.

Ultimately, though, it is up to you to decide for yourself what to take from my posts. I’m just sharing what I am passionate about.

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